In a scene from Peranbu, Amudhavan meets a woman in an NGO and makes a shocking request. When the woman asks for more details, and realises that the request is for his daughter, she slaps him. Amudhavan regains his composure and explains why he made the request. There are tears in his eyes, pain in his voice. But his dialogues are measured. His act is restrained.
Peranbu is a beautiful tale of a father and a daughter with cerebral palsy. At the heart of it is Mammootty’s astounding performance. Earlier in the movie, when Amudhavan learns that his daughter is on her period, he sits outside, on the stairs and cries, unsure how to take care of her thereafter.
In another scene, Amudhavan watches how his daughter goes towards the TV, and tries to express her sexual desires by kissing the actor on screen. He goes behind the door and bangs his head, bursting into tears. As a viewer, even if you had tried to remain unmoved for this sequence, you would, in all probability, tear up for the scene with the NGO woman.
In other words, Mammootty has done it again.
The three time National Award winning actor chooses to act in several below average movies. A lot of them are just intended to cater to his superstar image and fan following. But when he gets the roles that exploit the performer in him, the results are phenomenal. When Mammootty’s voice stutters or his eyes turn wet on screen, it leaves a lump in the throats of the viewers.
It has been the case since the '80s, soon after he made his debut. It is the case even now.
Undying passion. Undiminished skills.
It is doubtful if another superstar of this stature would have agreed to portray Amudhavan. Another fascinating aspect, which producer PL Thenappan revealed recently, is that Mammootty did the movie without taking his remuneration. Mammootty has portrayed a distressed father perhaps tonnes of times. Still in Peranbu, the 67-year-old actor brings the kind of passion and earnestness that most others fail to carry in the latter half of their careers. That Mammootty is one of the greatest actors in the country is no longer news. What is amazing is that he belongs to a rare group of actors whose skills haven't seen even the slightest decline after these many years in the field.
For director Ram, this is good news as he uses the technique of focusing the camera on Mammootty even in scenes where other characters are talking. A father tells Amudhavan why he decided to leave his kid at home for children with intellectual disabilities despite knowing the condition there. It is Amudhvan's face that the director shows us on the screen to explain the gravity of the situation. When his ex-wife's husband informs Amudhavan that they just had a newborn and that the kid has no disabilities, it is again only Amudhavan's wavering emotions that you see.
An extraordinary gift to transform into a character
In a TV show, director Vetrimaaran, who had watched the film, explains a part where Mammootty maintained the tension and anxiety of a father, when his daughter is in the bathroom changing her pads. He curiously asks the actor what was going through his mind while shooting for the scene.
Mammootty replies – “I imagined what I would have done if I had a daughter like this in real life. That is what I always do.”
Mammootty’s mantra for acting is simple. He gets himself deeper into the skin of the character. He then makes the viewers believe the character’s woes are theirs, too. In Pappayude Swantham Appoos, Balan walks to Gopan (Suresh Gopi) and says –“You can beat me or kill me. But you, of all people, shouldn’t say that I haven’t loved my son.” In Amaram, Achootty blesses his daughter one last time and says –“There is only one thing in this world that has always stayed by my side. It is this sea and it is calling me now.”
Balan is a rich businessman. Achootty is a poor fisherman. Their mannerisms and dialects are poles apart. In spite of that, we are pulled into both their worlds equally.
Numerous characters that have left a mark on us
Mammootty has given us several heart-wrenching characters and moments through his 40 year career. The methods that have gone behind them are not all alike . In Valsalyam, his relatives ask Raghavan Nair about details on the revenues he makes. He replies –“It's true, there is no record for anything except my love.” It’s the modulation in his voice that moves us.
In Pathemari where Narayanan gives a television interview, it’s his calm demeanour and a smile that moistens our eyes now. In Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Ambedkar doesn’t find a place to stay anywhere because of the caste he belongs to. He sits on a bench and cries helplessly. In Kaazhcha, Madhavan hands a paper with his address to the officer in the Gujarat camp, hoping he can take custody of Kochundapri someday. It's the actor's body language that stands out in these instances.
In Thaniyavarthanam, Balan arrives at his home to see the family that has come with a proposal for his sister. His brother and uncle introduce him as a neighbour, leaving him shattered. He quickly puts on a smile, talks to them and walks away. It's the expressive eyes which help him make such fine transitions.
Catching us by surprise even in mass commercial entertainers
Rajamanikyam is an out-and-out mass entertainer. It is known more for re-inventing the actor’s comedy side. In the interval scene, when Bellari Raja barges into his brother’s house, his mother confronts him and asks him to reveal his identity. Mammootty switches the tone swiftly as he tells the story of a boy who knocked the door on his mother’s wedding night. He has sunglasses on him, where most actors need eyes to express their emotions. He has to convey his emotions through a dialect that sounded comic till that point. Still the actor succeeds in overwhelming us.
In New Delhi, G.K is cold-blooded and self-centered. He takes innocent lives to get his newspaper sensational headlines. But when he arrives late and fails to stop his men from killing his sister’s lover, his reaction ends up making you root for him.
Screen time doesn't matter
It’s almost a given that Mammootty comes out in flying colours in auteur backed films. Equally stunning is the actor’s ability to make an impact also in movies where he has only short screen time. In Katha Parayumbol, Ashok Raj isn’t really a well-developed character. Still when he speaks at the school about his childhood friend who used to cut his hair, he takes the graph of the movie to an all-time high. It's a scene that you cannot complete most days without tears in your eyes.
Kandukondain Kandukondain had Mammootty mostly on the sidelines as it had other big names like Tabu, Aishwarya Rai, Ajith and Abbas. But when Meenakshi (Aishwarya Rai) forces Bala to open his mind, he brings his hands to her face and says, “God has given me this green-eyed angel, asking me to take good care of her.” Mammootty brought to fore once again his biggest strength.
In Thalapathy, Deva points to Surya (Rajnikanth) and tells others –“Look at Surya. He has left his family for me. Look at my commander.” Seldom does another actor steal the limelight like this when the country’s biggest superstar is in the same frame.
"When I went to Mammootty, I told him that I don’t have the full script of Peranbu with me," Ram said during the movie’s premiere at IFFI Goa. He added, “Because if he is not doing the movie, I wanted to drop it. I didn't want to waste my time writing the script. Mammootty agreed to be part of the movie in 15 minutes and then I started writing."
Few minutes into Peranbu, Amudhavan looks at the mirror and tries to mold his hand and face like his Paapa. He walks a few steps forward like her, then gives up. He returns to the window and leans his head against the mirror. By this time, you realise why Ram was so certain that he wanted Mammootty as his lead actor. Later, when he starts dancing, singing and acting like a puppy to win his daughter's heart, Mammootty has already made you believe that it is not the superstar with 40 years of experience in front of you, but only the anxious father of a young girl.
In other words, Mammootty has done it again.